Viewed by many as a hero, Frank Lenz was cheered on by crowds as he passed through small American towns on his round-the-world bike tour in Spring of 1892.
An out-of-water westward bound explorer - Ferdinand Magellan or Francis Drake - this pioneer of offroad cycling was striking out into an old frontier on new territory: the horse-less saddle. Bicycles were developing into something beyond a mere fad in the last decade of the 19th century. Its popularity among the masses increased, making it more than a hobby for the wealthy. The introduction of the "Safety" bike had replaced the high-rolling, dangerous and cumbersome Penny farthing, by using two smaller equal sized wheels and a chain drive. With that the value of human-powered, one man transport was taking firm hold of the American psyche.
On May 15 Lenz took on the mission to circle the globe on this single-speed "safety', financed by a popular outdoors magazine of the time "Outing". Carrying a heavy camera and his journal, Lenz was tasked with bringing back a sensational story, pictures included, of his epic journey.
Taking to heart the phrase: "Go West Young Man", Lenz began his trek from Pittsburgh. After taking a detour east to Washington D.C. to get a passport, he rode up to New York and thenceforward was bound for the California Coast. His diary indicated the use of railroads for through passage and across water ways, as roads were often not the best option. This method of crossing deep ravines or rivers was particularly dramatic when Lenz met a train up close and personal. Caught on a trestle he was forced to hang off the edge of the violently, shaking track with his bike suspended in mid-air 100 feet above the earth, while a chugging locomotive rumbled by.
Upon arriving in San Francisco, his next step was to take a ship across the Pacific Ocean before getting back to pedal-pushing in Yokahama, Japan. After crossing to the Chinese mainland, he could continue the trip on his own power, however, the actual cycling was at times hit and miss with the extremely poor road conditions and severe weather. Plus, the encounter of avoid hostile natives complicated his path, during his traverse through China. At one point he lost part of his ear in an attack. Difficult passage in the tropical Burma led him to revert back to the seas, setting his wheels on a ship deck enroute to India. After crossing the Sub-Continent he detoured to Calcutta and took to the waters again to avoid the notoriously dangerous peoples of Afghanistan, not to mention the difficult mountain crossings during winter months.
Indeed it had been over two years when Lenz's fatal, epic journey would reach its last leg. Spinning through Iran (known then as Persia) and almost to the European Continent, Lenz entered the Turkish Ottoman Empire where fighting was frequent between Kurds and Armenians.
It is somewhere along this segment that Lenz met his demise, believed by the American ambassador to have been murdered by a violent Kurdish tribe in the aftermath of his disappearance .
William Sachtleben, his globe-pedaling predecessor who successfully completed the round-the-world trip in a west to east fashion in 1887 on a high wheeler, was sent to Turkey to learn the truth of what befell the young cyclist. After Sachtleben's investigation, the details were revealed and their worst fears were confirmed. He had apparently angered a Kurdish chief while passing through a village. As a result he was then ambushed and killed by bandits. With his fate determined the news would be brought home to his anguishing mother and a story of his magnificent adventure would be written with a disastrous conclusion.
A son of German immigrants, Lenz's undertaking was greater than any world tour done by bike today. There were few good roads and no such thing as VISAs in the 19th century. This likely made transport especially difficult and good communication with the natives critical in the undeveloped and primitive lands of Asia, specifically China, Southeast Asia, India and the Middle East. In fact, he even paid natives to haul his heavy, steel-framed bike through the swamps, and was ultimately forced to utilize water transport via the Indian Sea and again in the Persian Gulf, in an effort to stay true to his estimated timeline of one year. Even so, he had already journeyed over two years when he reached what was guesstimated to be his final resting place in Erzerum, north-eastern Turkey.
In 1976 the first mountain bike was ridden and pushed across 12,700 foot Pearl Pass from the poor, dead mining town of Crested Butte, Colorado to the affluent town of Aspen. With these humble beginnings an annual race / tour formed from that first 2-day excursion on those old single-speed, balloon tire bikes, which sported coaster brakes.
Four years later a 21-year-old kid named Mike Rust joined the venture. Riding with all his gear over that very same steep and unforgiving jeep trail, he eventually reached the apex and flew down rough-n-tumble to Aspen. The following day he returned to Crested Butte via the picturesque Maroon Bells, which today are part of a designated wilderness off limits to cycling.
Earlier in that same year of 1980 Rust and a whole group of cyclist had ridden 400 some odd miles from their home in Colorado Springs looking for a route over the Continental Divide. Their ultimate destination was of course Crested Butte. Upon arriving in 'the Butte' Rust immediately took to his new environment, feeding his passion for cycles with their jimmy-rigged bikes.
Within five years he and his friend Don McClung had started a bike shop in Crested Butte. Having built his first bike when he was about 12-years-old, his inventive side reemerged. He welded a new sort of frame with an elevated and shortened chain stay, placing the wheels closer together. With a lower center of gravity, this concept enhanced the bike's performance on tight switch backs and rougher tracks. Calling his bike the "Shorty", in time the concept took hold in the growing world of mountain bikes. Following this invention, Rust was next inspired to tweek the antique bicycle: 'Ordinary' (high wheeler or Penny Farthing). He built his own version of the late 1800s model, and rode it in Denver Post's famous tour "Ride The Rockies" with his brothers. He was also part of the inspiration for an annual "The 4th of July Crest Trail Ride", a tour that starts at the now well-known mountain bike destination of Monarch Crest above 12,000 feet in elevation. An avid outdoorsman and bike racer, in 1991 he was inducted into the Mountain Bike Hall of Fame.
Resourceful and preferring a simple life that required more survival skills than most people could comprehend, Mike built his own house in the high desert mountain country of Saguache County. To add to the uniqueness of the man and his moral code, he had constructed his home out of free or recycled materials, utilizing solar power for heat and propane gas for his refrigerator.
In 2009 Rust disappeared from his homestead. Having returned to his pad in the late afternoon of March 31 he saw that his belongings were disturbed and immediately took off down a two-track trail on his motor bike in pursuit of the trespassers. He contacted his girlfriend before taking off to find the burglars, but was never seen again. Four days later, his brothers and the local law enforcement was on the search for Rust, when his bloody jacket and the broken butt of a 22. rifle was found, but what happened to his body would remain a mystery.
Already a gregarious young boy in Colorado Springs when he came of age, he took his independence to new heights. Called a frontiersman in the modern era, Mike, his brother Paul said of him, was somebody who could have crossed the country 100 or 200 years ago in a wagon. "Louis and Clark would have liked to have him along for the trip," he said.
On the evening of November 28 a wild fire struck Green Mountain, and it was quite the site from a distance. In the following 24 hours the park was closed, but on the 30th I checked out the damages. Trails don't burn, right? So, it was easy rolling down and up these paths. I turned it into a three episode tour, tackling the extensive network in three days during the warmest times of the day, which is around noon. This is supposed to be winter after all, so the sun only hangs out for a little while before 4p, while not warming the earth significantly until 10-11 a.m. This descent pictured above was wild for sure, although relatively short, but there was plenty of ascending to make up for it.
I got going at 6a.m. on a Tuesday in late July, a relatively late start for all-day bike rides in the high country. The best time to ride was at sunrise, when the air was cooler and the views were especially appreciable. Some of the longest rides I had started early-early, but lasted until sunset, but even without the night-time start on this day, there would be some difficult climbs and descents with pedaling or pushing that would max out my endurance tank.
I drove towards Guanella Pass, stopped short at the Abyss Trailhead and looked to the west at my last solo monster ride of 2016 "Burning Bear Trail to Red Cone".
Riding Burning Bear was all below treeline over some pretty sweet singletrack, with sections of steep loose rock that is par for the course in the Rocky Mountains. At the end of that trail I reached a jeep road, where it was a slow ascent to the mining remnants and high point of Webster Pass. If that wasn't enough of an achievement, Redcone Peak still awaited my assault, and despite the vertical opposition, I rode 'til I could ride no further, then took it one step at a time on a 35-40% grade to the top. It was worth it though, as with the views the downhill made the pain of the last, worst part of the climb bearable. After that it was a "balls-to-the-walls" descent back to Burning Bear and its trailhead where the day got started 9 hours earlier.
By mid-August the Mountain's Revenge (formerly Montezuma's Revenge) Race took place. A 24-hour ordeal, where 10s of thousands of feet were there to be gained in the twilight and pitch black at the tail of the Alpine summer. If its a race that makes it possible to finally allow me to roll and push over Radical Hill then so be it. It finally happened.
The second week of September marks the end of the high-elevation mt. biking season for me, with the annual Pearl Pass Tour. This year though would be like none other. The race/path is 36 miles one way from Crested Butte to Aspen, but when you ride it both directions it at least doubles the offroad mountain miles.
While the concept of riding this both directions was not new, the manner in which it was completed in 2016, however, was. 126.61 miles total with the first 85 completed on the west side of the Elk Range, through Marble, Crystal and over Schofield Pass. There were not too many bikers -- well zero to be exact -- much less people the first day. It was an experience of riding in solitude. But day two made up for that in a big way. From the starting line at the Crested Butte museam where over 30 riders were ready to roll, the route was occupied by klunker bikes, motor bikes or jeeps.
The snow had started to melt off the trails by June, so it was time to get far away from the Denver area and ride higher than 7k. Alpine summers are short as it is, so given the bachelorhood that was forced upon me for this season, I decided that I needed to head for hills as often as possible. So long as I wasn't working -- or shall I say participating in the usual drudgery that is life -- then I would be riding the highlands as I had not for the last six years. But the only way to make that happen and avoid the inevitable rain storms and lightening was to leave ultra early in the morning. As dawn approached, I was able to capture mist coming off of a pond at Kenosha Pass (10,001 ft) at the Colorado Trail / Georgia Pass Trailhead.
Georgia Pass is a relatively easy singletrack trail route that reaches the Continental Divide at 11,598 in elevation. Its a good warm up for the harsher dirt paths that I would see in the coming weeks. In a few short days, the heights of Mount Sherman would seem attainable. Ridden to 13,000 some-odd feet where the snow clung steadfast, I reached the usual rock scree that I attacked with vigor. But upon attaining the first ridge, the gale force winds 500 feet from the apex yelled at me to go back down. Forced to turn around I could only hope that time and conditions would let me try again later in the year.
Instead of dwelling on this failed attempt at Sherman's peak, I focused my energies next on the Wheeler Trail. A route that followed the Mosquito Range from Blue River to Copper Mountain. The pic below shows a faint trail that contrary to the appearance was in my mind very ridable. My sister (inlaw) had just moved to Colorado and was staying at my pad until she and her boyfriend had their own place. So, in an effort to not be inhospitable I made this trip a fast but good roll along the finer points of God's green-rocky earth.
Next it was time to visit the ghosttown of Teller City. A none-descript journey, but still desolate. The old mining town was abandoned abruptly in 1894, when with the Silver Crash every resident fled the town leaving clothes hang and dishes out, so as to give the impression that someone would be returning soon.
In 2016 there was one trip that was to stand above all else, the ride behind the Collegiate Peaks. It is a section of the Sawatch Range with some the most grandiose mountains of the Colorado Rockies. The first day was supposed to take place on July 11, but was postponed until the 17th thanks to ongoing staffing issues at work. With that the original route was abbreviated too, but the majesty of the path to be undertaken remained preeminent.
The concept was to combine the singletrack of the Timberline Trail along with the tracks and one dirt road to comprise 7-9 high points in three days.
In the first day, the route tackled Timberline Trail on a steep and rocky path for about 12 miles. There were about three high points with the last followed by a wider trail that offered a view of Mirror Lake, the first major landmark in the journey.
After about 4.5 hours of pedaling and pushing my bike along this rough singletrack, I continued my southward path on a 4wd trail to the first official mountain crossing -- Tincup Pass. It was a key waypoint for miners hauling silver ore out of the Tincup area by wagon in the the 1870s and 80s.
At the top I spoke with several ATV riders, who were enjoying the beautiful weather and making a week of their gallivants through the Sawatch Range. It was good to speak to others for a bit before going it alone again. They kindly offered me water and food, which I could not bring myself to refuse even as I was feeling pretty well hydrated.
The ride down to the St. Elmo ghosttown was mostly uneventful, albeit a boneshaker. From their on it was a gradual rise to the next ghosttown in Hancock on a former railroad grade.
At the Hancock site the trail narrowed slightly and continued on to the Divide at the Alpine Tunnel, on the track pictured above. This was the Denver South Park and Pacific (DSPP) Railroad. At 11,523 ft. above sea level, the tunnel was the highest of its time ever bored at such extreme elevation. Consequently, the tunnel was the subject of many disasters (train wrecks and winter storms) in its short history between 1880 and 1910. From the avalanche that destroyed the depot at Woodstock, killing 12 on the west side of the tunnel, to the burying of a train in snow numerous events made keeping the Alpine Tunnel open quite challenging. For a short time though, train passengers were treated to some of the most awesome views of the Colorado Sawatch Range when taking this route.
Just a little east of the caved in east portal, I headed up and over the tunnel on the Altman Pass trail, later named the Alpine Pass. It was just under 12,000 feet in elevation and its path is now a part of the Continental Divide Trail.
From here on it was downhill on the gentle grade of the railroad line from the west portal. The rebuilt engine house and telegraph station stand here. A section of the trail from here had collapsed and thusly prohibited 4-wheeled vehicles from exploring the area near the Palisades. The Palisades is an awe-striking narrow ledge with talus slopes above and below. During the late 1800s, train engineers would stop under the rockwall's scenic monument and allow passengers to step off the car to view the natural marvel.
That concluded day 1. From here I proceeded west to the town of Pitkin on a constant downhill (Forest Road 839) that was a railroad bed. At the Pitkin general store, the only business remaining in this small former mining town, I was able to get some cell reception by using wifi, and let those concerned know where I was. From there I grabbed a burger and headed back north to FR-839 and camped. By 6a.m the next morning I was up. I assembled my equipment, packed it in and headed back east towards the tunnel. But instead of going all the way back to the West Portal, I continued east and up a rougher 4wd trail towards the Hancock Pass, then stayed right on the route to Tomichi Pass. These routes were wagon trails for miners from the Mary Murphy Mine and the Tomichi Mining Camp. The latter became a town that later was destroyed by fire and avalanche with great loss of life. Tomichi Pass itself is under 12,000 feet, but i hiked up another 600 feet guesstimate to the top of Central Mountain to take in the views and just appreciate God's country.
From there it was back to the Pitkin intersection and north to Cumberland Pass. This was perhaps the least fun portion of the trip, as it was a dirt road and their were plenty of ATVs and motorbikes zipping by me. The top of the pass, while cool both figuratively and literally was the last highpoint of the day. I took it in for about 15 minutes and headed to Tincup, the wildwest town renown for its rough and rowdy crowds that sent three sheriffs to their early demise or exit from the area. From their I pedaled on to the Taylor Park Reservoir, had dinner at a restaurant, yeah finally real food again, and looked for a campsite on the north side of Taylor Lake / reservoir.
With my first stop I checked out the official campground above the lake. The host told me that they would charge me full price, even when I had no camper or motor-home as most of the rest did. Instead I picked a spot just on the other side of the road on FR-755 (Texas Creek Trail) and hunkered down for the night. Oh what a night it was. Just after dark it rained, not just for a little, but all night long and into the morning. As the sky started to lighten I on zipped my bag to see if their was enough visibility. The clouds were starting to clear out gradually, and the following photo depicts the views that I was left with. There are benefits to sticking it out through a rain storm.
This last day of riding was marked by a gradual ascent on a hardpack, rock-imbedded trail that made for the best riding of the whole trip. The way back to Cottonwood Road was a great ride, but mostly uneventful accept for the group of guesstimate 15 young ladies on a hike that I had to pull off to the side for. All in all, it was a successful outing for my first multi-day trip in 5 years that is not called Pearl Pass.
On Sept. 11 2015 in the early a.m. I drove to Aspen, Co., parked the car, unracked the bike and was getting ready to spin when two guys showed up with a couple full-suspension 29ers. They pulled up next to me in a truck and asked if parking was good at the present location. I let them know they were good and started rolling down the road towards Express Creek via the Castle Creek road. About a mile before my turn at Express Creek the two gents showed up behind me (Mark and Javin) and we quickly realized we had the same destination in Crested Butte via the same route. In addition, we all were going to ride the Pearl Pass Tour on Saturday. We road up Taylor Pass and down and up again to Star Pass. AT that point i had been more or less on my own, as I told them to take off head of me. A little later, I had an almost serious crash with my 35 lb fatty. After completing a mechanical checkover, enduring the heavy weight of pushing, pedaling and piggy-backing the fatty up the rocky slope, and stopping for a few pictures I think I fell top far behind to catch those guys again. But another group met me at the top of Star Pass and I was again in good company as the track switched from rocky and steep to a relatively smooth and hardback surface. Made it to Crested Butte, settled in at my room at the hostel, and headed to Donitas, the Mexican restaurant in town where Kay Cook -- restaurant owner and Tour planner/leader along with her husband Don -- spoke with me for a while about this year's tour plans and reminisced about past rides. The next morning I met Will and Ben as people gathered at the mt bike Museum on main street for the beginning of our ride. There were eight of us in all this year, A small turn out compared with past years where there were nearly 30 participants. But it was still the debut for my fatbike on the tour and it was cool to be the first to be able to test it. Not that this was really even on my mind at the time, but as the tour progressed and the climb became more pronounced I intermittently fell behind 2-3 others. i was keenly aware of my bikes deficiencies in weight and gearing. But no regrets, as the haul to the top was part of the joy of this tour. The original klunkers were not exactly tech marvels either. It was all worth it in the end as the descent from Pearl was marked by a balls-to-the-walls downhill fly. At the city park in Aspen we asked about two guys from sea level who were still not at the pass before we headed down. i was preparing to go back to find them or wait at the trailhead, when they showed up. All in all, a great final ride of the season, and made some great connections out there!
So Jones Pass has been ridden several times and done as a loop down Herman Gulch to I-70. but this time I had to take it from I-70 at the HG Trailhead and up to the high point. Lots of great singletrack, but a lot more hike-a-bike than on the jeep trail to Jones.
Ride free and wild!!!!
Baby, let the good times roll!!!
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